I’ll never forget when Dad called to tell me he had a brain tumour.
That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. A million things were running through my head. Amongst them was a query: “If Dad might be dying, what questions could or should I be asking him?”
[At that point we didn’t know that it was a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an incredibly aggressive brain tumour. The clock was ticking fast. He died 6 months later on the 24th of Jan 2016.]
So I started an Evernote file called “Questions for Dad”.
I listed some of my own questions and began the search for others.
Over the following weeks and months, I collected questions from friends who’d had their fathers or mothers die – what they had found useful, wished they’d asked, or topics they wished they’d covered with the benefit of hindsight.
Recently I was asked for the questions I’d gathered so I wanted to share them here.
Some of these I was able to ask, others there just wasn’t time or capacity to address. The GBM dramatically affected Dad’s cognitive function and within two or three months, lucid conversations of any length became rare.
As you’ll see below some of the questions sparked uncomfortable conversations, others were immensely practical, and others were really uplifting. Often they were a combination. I’m grateful for them all.
I found this 3 part framework really helpful as a purpose for the conversations I wanted to have with Dad:
- Please forgive me.
- I forgive you.
- Thank you, I love you.
(Unfortunately I can’t find the reference article but it may be linked the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono.)
I feel fortunate to have asked questions and had conversations that included the first two and that highlighted the third.
A small request – if you have any questions that you found to be good in the process, please leave them below in the comments. It would be great to make this a useful resource for people who stumble across this googling in the middle of a dark night.
I hope you find this list useful.
Questions for Dad
- What has become more important to you over time?
- What advice would you give your 30 year old self?
- What are you most proud of?
- What are you least proud of?
- Is there anything you’d do differently if you knew what you know now?
- What do you regret the most?
- When do you think you’ve been happiest in your life? Why?
- What do you wish you’d asked your parents before they’d died?
- What’s something I don’t know about you?
- Are you proud of me?
- Why did you and Mum get divorced? Why did you drift apart? What were the underlying reasons?
- Do you have any advice for me for my marriage?
- What do I want out of this?
- What do you want out of the next few weeks/months?
- Who would you like to spend time with?
- Is there anything you’d like to do together?
- Do you need help with your will or finances?
- Can you tell me about your childhood, teenage years, video/audio?
- What did you love in those years?
- What did it feel like to have children?
- How do you feel about mortality?
- What one thing would make you feel better today?
- Is there anything left unsaid in our relationship?
- Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you.
- What event had the biggest impact on you?
- What was one of the worst moments in your life? What did you do about it?
- What was life like before you had children?
Other resources I found useful through that time:
- Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance and her guided meditations were excellent.
- The concept of starting with the end in mind from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was really useful to keep conversations focussed as Dad’s cognition deteriorated.
- Speak the Truth by Christine McDougall.
- Articles I found that helped me with the questions: